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Chinese Color Vocabulary Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

One of the first things you learn when picking up a new language are the colors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taught Chinese youngsters all of the colors in English – it’s right up there with the words for the days of the week, fruit, and other essentials. Now, I won’t make our readers run around the classroom locating the different colors as I shout them out, but I will teach you the Chinese vocabulary that you need to know! Let’s start with the Chinese word for color (颜色 – yán sè). That second character (色) is going to come in handy, because it’s used in all of the words for different colors. Take, for example, the Chinese word for red (红色 – hóng sè) – basically, 红 means “red” and 色 means “color,” so together it means “the color red.” Here are 15 Chinese words about colors that you’ll want to remember:

A very colorful Chinese lantern.

A very colorful Chinese lantern.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 5.49.05 PM

As you may have noticed, there are two different words for brown. Both of these words are fine, but when shopping for something like clothing, it’s more common to use the word “coffee color” (咖啡色 – kā fēi sè). When describing the color of something, it’s also common to add the particle 的 to the end. Just look at a few examples:

  • I want that red one. (我要那个红色的 – wǒ yào nà gè hóng sè de)

  • This one is white. (这个是白色的 – zhè ge shì bái sè de)

  • He’s wearing a green shirt. (他穿绿色的衬衫 – tā chuān lǜ sè de chèn shān)

If there’s such a thing as a national color, it’s definitely red in China. In Chinese culture, red represents prosperity and happiness, and it’s seen just about everywhere you look – on the flag, on the lucky red envelopes given for Spring Festival and weddings, and on decorations in the house. As it’s believed that Chinese people are descendants of the Yellow Emperor, that’s also quite an auspicious color. As they are associated with mourning and loss, black and white are both considered unlucky colors. However, many Chinese women have taken up the Western custom of wearing a white wedding dress these days, so white isn’t such a bad color after all.

Now that you know the Chinese words for colors, it’s time to answer an important question:

What’s your favorite color? Why?

你最喜欢什么颜色?为什么?

(nǐ zuì xǐ huān shén me yán sè? wèi shén me)

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


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